Gen-Ed student contest captures Philadelphia through art

The 10th annual Grit and Beauty contest asked students to capture Philadelphia in a uniquely artistic way.

Lucienne Nowak, a sophomore engineering technology major, won first place for her photo “City Seating” in the General Education Program’s annual Grit and Beauty contest. | MADISON KARAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Every time Lucienne Nowak drives past 6th Street and Girard Avenue, she sees the same message on the side of a building: “SELL YOUR TV … BUY ART!!” 

Brightly colored paintings sprawl across a chipping brick wall beneath the message. A nearby abandoned, retro-style couch catches Nowak’s eye. The sophomore engineering technology major snapped a photo of the scene when she and a friend were at a stoplight two years ago.

“It was just kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Nowak said. “It’s very beautiful, but yet, it’s falling apart.” 

Nowak won first place for the photo in the Temple University General Education Program’s annual Grit and Beauty contest, which called for artwork that captured Philadelphia’s uniqueness. The program, which oversees liberal arts education requirements, is displaying eight winning submissions and two high-ranking ones for the first time in the contest’s 10-year run near Paley Library’s breezeway until the end of the semester.

Nowak and fellow first-place winner Monica Pagán, a senior psychology major, each won $500. The Paley Library display includes work from Nowak, Pagán, six runner-ups and two honorable mentions.

Many submissions, like Nowak’s “City Seating” photo and Pagán’s “Decaying Sunset” photo, which depicted a sunset shining through an abandoned office building, featured Philadelphia’s architecture and scenery. The contest was open to all students and received more than 100 photographs, essays and mixed media submissions, said Dana Dawson, the Gen-Ed Program’s associate director.

“A lot of the winning entries, when you look through them, really reflect students’ engagement with the city and finding these instances of things that might be perceived as cast off,” Dawson said. “But because of the lighting or just something about it, [it] makes it beautiful.”

Pagán took her sunset photo while on an urban exploration trip in Allegheny West with friends in November 2017.

“There is a type of beauty about it, going into a place where there was once a lot of memories of a lot of people bustling, and suddenly there’s no one,” Pagán said. “There’s nothing there anymore, and it’s decaying and people are now making new memories in there.”

Deborah Block, the coordinator for Philadelphia Experience Passport, a program that offers students free or reduced-price tickets to local arts and culture locations, judged the contest. Katie Weaver, a junior political science and global studies major on the Gen-Ed Executive Committee as the Honors representative, and Annabelle Jellinek, a retired Gen-Ed finance coordinator, also judged. 

Using a point scale from one to 15, the judges used a point scale to evaluate various criteria to give top submissions an overall score. They considered the combination of grit and beauty in a submission, and whether the piece was artistically compelling, Block said.

“The fact that our rough-and-tumble Temple students are…not only being in the city, but artistically reflecting on it [is] a great value,” she added.

Nowak and Pagán both felt the graffiti in their photos illustrated the city’s grit and beauty coming together.

While abandoned buildings often have a gritty feel, Pagán is always able to find the beauty in them, she said. 

“In those moments, when you’re in the quietness and you get to see those sunsets and those spaces, there is so much beauty in it,” Pagán added. “And I feel like between the grit and that beauty, you’re in that space.” 

Terry Halbert started the Grit and Beauty contest in 2009 as a way to get students off campus. Halbert, a legal studies professor and former director of the Gen-Ed Program, said while students were hesitant to come to Temple in the 1980s because “there was a real fear of the city,” that mindset has since changed.

“I’ve always felt that Temple is a good school for really being embedded in the city,” Halbert said. “We wanted to encourage students to have that experience even without a faculty member assigning something, just because they were going to explore on their own.”

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